I think there has been a collective anxiety around Star Wars fans for a while. Things that were once cherished seem a little less revered. A result more than likely of the film prequels which for many were a bitter disappointment, defended by some while reviled by others. When it was announced that Disney had taken over Lucasfilm and intended to return to the world of Star Wars that anxiety resurfaced. Yet the right moves were there bringing in director JJ Abrams, who had done things with Star Trek that were unexpected, bringing on the revered writer of Empire Strikes Back and then those trailers that revealed nothing but showed promise. Yet I got the sense sitting in a midnight screening that if The Force Awakens has been a dud, a lot of people might be done with Star Wars for good. The great news is that The Force Awakens is a very good film, a joy to watch even. To find out why keep reading.
Taking place thirty years after the events of Return of the Jedi, the once successful Rebellion has only had limited results as a new imperial enemy known as The First Order now rules large parts of the galaxy by fear. One of the great leaders of the Rebellion/ Resistance Jedi Luke Skywalker has gone into hiding. A mission sent to the desert planet of Jakuu lead by Poe Dameron hopes to find details of Skywalker’s whereabouts from a contact on the surface and this also has been discovered by the First Order.
There are two questions that I figure every Star Wars Fan wants to know about The Force Awakens. Does it honour what has come before it and does it offer anything new? The answer is a resounding yes on both counts.
In fact, it’s probably worth getting the negative out of the way because it feels like The Force Awakens at times is little more than a well-studied imitation. Some will find too much familiarity here. It feels like a necessity to me to remember what has come before it. It’s not nostalgia but something that drags the proceedings down like a monkey on their creative back. You will see it especially in things like production designs, such as planet environments, scene set up that look like an all too familiar scene, say like a trench run.
Yet while some will those elements are frustrating it feels that it’s done to help create the feel of the older films. While an intangible from many of our childhood, what made Star Wars great, it can be best summed up with character over story, fun while having a much-needed heart. The Force Awakens manages to do this in large part by making Han Solo its main character albeit the main one from the previous films.
Easily the best performance Harrison Ford has done in years. Still the cocky smuggler of days past he now finds himself by the haunted by age and mistakes now catch up with him. His story is what will make old fans new converts of The Force Awakens in an emotional not simply a nostalgic way.
The question becomes then how is The Force Awakens something new especially if it at times feels slavish in regards to its past. The key is introducing compelling new characters to interact and both John Boyega and Daisy Ridley inhabit wonderful new characters in Fin and Rey respectively. Each strong, independent and at times funny both share an easy chemistry with each other yet shine independent of each other. Daisy Ridley especially is the star though. Something like a Keira Knightley with tough as nails grit, her Rey is shrouded in mystery that one can only imagines will find more time in coming films. I want to find out what happens to these two and I actually care about it too.
It’s worth mentioning Poe, Kylo Ren and BB-8 who may have diminishing returns for some. Poe is an affable pilot who is considerably inoffensive. BB-8 is obviously our R2-D2 replacement offering nothing completely distinct from R2 but still wonderful and loyal and is responsible for many of the laughs in the film. Kylo Ren perhaps seems the most divisive. Adam Driver loads him with angst given expression in too much power. Is he a Vader or more Anakin, perhaps neither, a big question of redemption lies over him particularly from some of his actions here? He is best left for me in the undecided column and only time will tell how his story plays out.
This is one of the frustrating elements of setting up a trilogy because Disney in protecting their financial investment have left much up in the air. Questions about characters are sometimes deliberated emphasised with questions, where does Rey come from, who are her parents, what turned Kylo Ren to the dark side? Where has Luke been and why? There are also a bunch of very spoiler heavy ones that no one will appreciate here. Still despite this plethora of questions The Force Awakens has its own complete arc.
Not all mysteries are bad though and they find a compelling reason for us to come back for more films. But even some mysteries don’t need answers things as returning mysticism to things like the force help reinforce a deeper lore that The Force Awakens doesn’t seek to explain just let you know it is there, all around us much like the force itself.
With so much going on, The Force Awakens suffers from neglecting some of its players especially Carrie Fisher or even C3PO and at times feels like it goes from stationary to hundred miles an hour at the flick of a switch. Yet efficient story telling might create neglect it never feels boring and always is exciting. It doesn’t simply convey an action sequence it makes it fun. The always reckless and brave way that the rebels/resistance do things is not lost here. The reliance on skill and a whole lot of luck is still there.
It also worth mentioning the use of effects here. A welcome mix of practical and digital. Things feel more tangible and visceral. From the impact of laser fire and the crashing of ship, it all just feels more real. The Action feels a bit more substantial. Please blockbuster directors, take note of this. We want more practical effects and your budgets can cope with it.
There are so much to talk about both good and bad. But nobody wants to read all that. Just know that it’s hard to come away completely disappointed from The Force Awakens. Star Wars has and always will mean different things to different people. Some people hold it more akin to a work of art rather than a pulpy science fiction blockbuster. The Force Awakens can never remove itself from expectations, a bitter damned if you do, damned if you don’t. But whether it completely works for you or not, it’s worth acknowledging that if you remove the Star Wars from The Force Awakens it still stands as a good movie.
Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens Cheat Sheet:
JJ Abrams and Team had quite a task with The Force Awakens. Episode VII needing to restore faith in what made Star Wars great while simultaneously beginning something new. While by no means a perfect film Force Awakens it is a very strong one. It’s filled with heart, fun and filled with both familiar, new, known and mysterious qualities. Star Wars is back people and that is a good thing. Thank you JJ for making us believe again.
+ Wonderful performance from Harrison Ford bring nostalgia and heart for old fans.
+ The two new actors in Ridley and Boyega bring essential new characters to the universe.
+ Practical effects add weight to the action.
+ A sense of play, fun and humour throughout.
– The frustrating questions of a trilogy and this only being the first movie.
– Pacing feels like it leaves some actors neglected and at times shifts too quickly.